My wife, Lilandra is a secular activist like myself, advocating for improved education as I do, but she is also a science teacher and a curriculum specialist with the Next Generation Science Standards. One of the projects we do together is a series of classroom supplement science videos teaching biology at the middle school and high school level. We have a separate channel just for our Living Science series, one that is separate from our other activism videos. This is our latest one. It’s a middle school introduction to cellular respiration. We’re nearly done with this unit, and have already done a unit on the nature of science.
These are reportedly being used in public school classrooms at the teachers’ discretion. This is good because here in the US there are some lessons that will not be taught properly otherwise regardless of the law. The video below is an example of one such lesson that most teachers couldn’t or wouldn’t teach, because it includes a mention of evolution and other empirical biological data counter to creationism.
Roughly 20% of our science teachers are creationists and either won’t teach any aspect of evolution at all, or they’ll misrepresent it. For example, my son’s science teacher told the class that evolution is a dysfunctional theory because there has never been a beneficial mutation, and he reprimanded my son for pointing out that a series of beneficial mutations were listed in the text book. I have several examples of American public school science teachers misrepresenting evolution and teaching creationism instead, and they’re often doing it with impunity -due to special legislation protecting this practice.
If teachers are willing to teach evolution, there are very few with a functional understanding of it sufficient to do so without misleading impressions. The remaining percentage of science teachers may accept evolution and even understand it, but still choose to gloss over it or skip it in order to avoid the backlash from students, parents, and even faculty. That’s what happens when they appear to promote evolution in their own words. It would be much better if such lessons were standardized, and the teacher can exempt themselves from personal criticism by playing a series like ours which is concordant with the national standards.
Our videos are also being used by secular home schoolers too. Some parents keep their kids out of public school to protect them from forbidden knowledge. Secular home schoolers do it because they know that public education has been so compromised by conservative politics that their kids aren’t likely to learn real mainstream science, sex, or social studies otherwise.
Secular Home schoolers have few resources, as that industry caters almost entirely to religious instruction, including lessons on how to instill and reaffirm faith. It’s so bad that the keynote speaker at the 2013 state conference of the Texas Homeschool Coalition was the kingpin of Young Earth Creationist pseudoscience, Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis ministries.
My wife and I protested that conference, and we held another one of our own nearby. Professor P.Z. Myers and other professional scientists joined us in addressing a capacity crowd at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. That’s when we got the idea to do this series. As I explain in the video below, the problem isn’t the science standards; it’s the fact that they’re not being taught. To demonstrate that, I ran through a rather long list of the state’s required standards the way they should have been presented but seldom are anywhere in this country, especially not in the south.
We could have made a separate video for each of these lessons, and we know how to present this information appropriately. Then we realized that’s what we should do. So Lilandra and I decided that the best way we could address the problem ourselves was to produce our own series of classroom supplement videos, tailored specifically to Middle school and high school students. So once we signed onto Patreon last year, we could finally start making this series -in addition to all our other projects. We couldn’t do any of it without the support of our patrons. So thank you for your consideration.
One of my wife’s frustrations with teaching in Texas is that science is at a low priority. George Bush and Ted Cruz are evidence of that. There is also a shortage of competent teachers -due in part to our governor’s massive budget cuts, part of the Religious Right’s ongoing attack of public education. For example, when she and others were assigned a poster illustrating the Milky Way galaxy in teacher training, another teacher could only suggest a picture of a spilled jug of milk. She seemed unaware what galaxy we are in. I’m sorry to say that in my experience, quite a lot of adults don’t even know what a galaxy is, and can’t distinguish that from either the solar system or the universe. We’ve both argued with grown adults who say things like, “If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My wife is embarrassed that she too once said things like that herself, as a product of Texas schools. She’s angry too -at how ignorant she’d still be if it weren’t for the internet. She’s seen an incurious attitude from indoctrinated students too. They say they don’t need to know how science works because God made everything. I’ve heard adults, posing as educators saying much the same thing. We’d like to teach them a better understanding than that.